Orbital Sciences Corp. Now Delayed Cygnus Spacecraft Launch To Carry Biomedical Antibiotic Resistance And Educational K-12 Experiments
NASA Television will provide live coverage of the launch of Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp.’s commercial Cygnus spacecraft originally slated for liftoff Tuesday, Jan. 7 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. However an extreme cold snap preceded by with rainy weather has delayed the flight, which is now penciled-in for Jan. 8, or possibly Thursday, Jan. 9 when much improved weather is forecast. This will be the first of eight Cygnus resupply cargo delivery missions to the International Space Station under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to fly using Orbital’s robotic Cygnus spacecraft and Antares rockets. Cygnus resupply cargo mission launched to ISS by Orbital Sciences Corp. and follows an earlier, successful launch of a Cygnus demo flight to ISS that arrived at the orbiting station on Oct. 22.
The forecast for Wednesday also calls for cold temperatures, but the station program and Orbital planned to revisit the weather forecast at the beginning of the week. The main concern with the weather is the cold temperatures coupled with likely precipitation. Orbital says the Antares rocket has a lower limit temperature constraint of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The tentative launch time for Wednesday, Jan. 8 is 1:32 p.m. Eastern time. NASA TV coverage of launch will begin at 1 p.m. A launch on Wednesday will result in a grapple of Cygnus by the Expedition 38 crew aboard the station on Sunday, Jan. 12 at 6:02 a.m. NASA TV coverage will begin at 5 a.m. Coverage of the installation of Cygnus on the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module will begin at 7 a.m.
Cygnus will carry two University of Colorado Boulder payloads to the International Space Station — a biomedical antibiotic experiment and an educational K-12 experiment involving ant behavior in microgravity aboard Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket scheduled to lift off at 11:55 a.m. MST. Both experiments were designed by BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA-funded center in CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department.
The CU-Boulder biomedical experiment is designed to test the effectiveness of antibiotics in space. Past experiments by CU-Boulder and other institutions have shown bacterial susceptibility to antibiotics is significantly reduced during spaceflight, although the reason is not yet known, says CU-Boulder Associate Professor David Klaus, principal investigator on the project, in a CU-Boulder Release.
The CU-Boulder biomedical experiment was designed to test the effectiveness of antibiotics in space. Past experiments by CU-Boulder and other institutions have shown bacterial susceptibility to antibiotics is significantly reduced during spaceflight, although the reason is not yet known, says CU-Boulder Associate Professor and Assoc. Director, Research David Klaus, principal investigator on the project.
Dr. Klaus says the investigation will examine changes in the gene expression of the bacteria E. coli during exposure to different concentrations of antibiotics while in the microgravity environment of space. The hope is to locate particular genes that are key to resisting antibiotics, which could lead to improved testing on Earth as well as new drug targets or new approaches to understanding antibiotic resistance in certain diseases or infections, Dr. Klaus notes.
“Previous studies carried out in microgravity have shown that bacteria are able to grow in what normally would be an inhibitory concentration of the antibiotic,” says Dr. Klaus. “This investigation is aimed at characterizing the genetic basis for this response in the weightless environment of space with the intent of applying any insight gained toward combating the increasing emergence of drug-resistant pathogens here on Earth.”
Co-investigators on the project include BioServe Director Louis Stodieck, a research professor in aerospace engineering, and Shawn Levy, a researcher at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Ala. The research effort also involves CU-Boulder doctoral candidate Luis Zea.
Bacterial resistance to antibiotics kills 100,000 Americans every year and represents a roughly $20 billion expense to the U.S. government in excess health care costs, says Dr. Klaus. The experiments will be undertaken using spaceflight test tubes contained in the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, or CGBA, an automated, suitcase-sized incubator, all designed and built by BioServe.
Dr. David Klaus maintains a leadership role in center research activities and in mission planning and operations. Dr. Klaus developed and teaches courses in the bioastronautics program at CU along with 2 former astronauts now on the faculty, and mentors and advises numerous undergraduate and graduate students within the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences. He is engaged in research to elucidate the biophysical mechanisms by which microgravity exerts a variety of effects in single-cell suspension systems. He is also involved in research and development of new technologies for planetary habitation, space suits and life support systems, building on his prior work as a shuttle ECLSS launch controller at KSC and EVA mission operations and test engineer at JSC.
“Ants In Space”
The second experiment launching to ISS, “Ants in Space,” will examine foraging patterns based on the density of the common Pavement Ant, according to BioServe Business Development Manager and Education Program Director Stefanie Countryman.
“Spiders and Fruit Flies in Space” experiments, also an educational opportunity for K-12 students, were previously launched to the International Space Station aboard NASA’s shuttle missions STS-134 and STS-135. The experiments are supported by NASA in collaboration with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, the ISS National Lab Education Office, Baylor College of Medicine – Center for Education and Outreach at Houston, the Butterfly Pavilion, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Orion’s Quest.
“Ants assess their own density at the rate at which they meet,” says Ms. Countryman. “Past experiments by Professor Deborah Gordon, principal investigator on this project, have shown that some ant species have the ability to search areas collectively without individual communication. When ant densities are high, each ant thoroughly searches one small area in a circular, ‘random’ walk, she said. When ant densities are low, each ant searches by walking in a relatively straight line, allowing it to cover more ground.”
The eight individual ant habitats on ISS will be loaded with roughly 100 ants each. “The experiment examines whether in microgravity ants will use the rate at which they meet to assess density, and so use straighter paths in the larger habitat areas. The results will be compared to ground controls, which in this case will include ant habitats in hundreds of K-12 classrooms around the world,” Ms. Countryman observes. BioServe is partnering with Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Education Outreach, a longstanding BioServe partner that has developed the education curriculum guide for the experiment.
In the past 25 years, BioServe has designed, built and flown microgravity life science research experiments on more than 40 space missions, and has a full suite of space flight hardware, both on the ISS and on the ground, supporting its own research as well as research conducted by its customers and partners. Past BioServe partners include large and small pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, universities and NASA-funded researchers.
Ms. Countryman has 21 years experience in the science, research, education and healthcare industries, and over 11 years experience with BioServe. She leads BioServe’s K-12 Education programs which have reached hundreds of thousands of students nationally and internationally, and additionally directs BioServe’s business development activities including industry recruitment, NASA reporting, coordination and negotiation of commercial contracts and agreements, the oversight of intellectual property issues and serves as a liaison between BioServe and its partners.
BioServe research partners on the ant project include Gordon of Stanford University and Associate Professor Michael Greene of the University of Colorado Denver. The experiment is sponsored by NASA’s National Lab Education Office as well as the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, a nonprofit group headquartered in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Teachers interested in participating in the ant experiments may contact Stephanie Countryman at [email protected] More information on the project for teachers and students will be online beginning in mid-January at:
This program allows K-12 students to participate in near real-time space research, learn about collecting and analyzing research from NASA scientists and to gather their own parallel, ground-based data to analyze. “Students have access to the data in their classrooms, and they have an opportunity to help analyze spaceflight data themselves” says Sharmilla Bhattacharya, the NASA Ames Research Center Life Scientist who worked with the students in developing the science studies program.
In one experiment, the students studied the long duration orb weaving characteristics of a Nephilia clavipes, or golden orb web spider. In a second, they studied the movement and behavior of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) that served as food for the spiders during the flight. The spiders and fruit flies were monitored and evaluated to determine how the spiders’ construction of orb webs and the fruit flies’ mobility behavior changed over a period of 45 days in microgravity. In a third experiment, students measured the direction of plant growth during seed germination in microgravity, by characterizing directional plant growth in response to direct contact and to light during seed germination in microgravity. All three experiments were conducted simultaneously on board the International Space Station.
Although the “Spiders and Fruit Flies in Space” experiments were designed as a student learning activity to encourage learning and interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), it is hoped that the results will contribute to a clearer understanding of how different organisms are affected by the microgravity environment. Teacher guides and educational products for these experiments were developed to encourage and inspire students to pursue careers in the scientific and technical fields. Participating students had the opportunity to observe the organisms on Earth in their classrooms in parallel, control experiments, and compare them to imagery from the experiment conducted onboard ISS.
Orbital Sciences Corp.
University of Colorado Boulder
Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Education Outreach
University of Colorado Boulder